Thursday, 7 May 2009

To Clear or Not to Clear my Desk?


That is the question. Indeed, it is a question without a clear answer. In my month of living data-centrically (a boring version of a Year Living Dangerously) I am attempting to make my decisions based on data, rather than intuition. Academics have us believe we make better decisions that way, so I’m putting it to the test.

So my first decision after I posted my blog on Tuesday was ”what to do next?” My desk is not the pinnacle of minimalism, so it’s normally a good choice to have a clear up before starting anything new. This time, I thought I would gather some evidence to back up my decision. As it turns out, there isn’t much.


There are estimates that “people spend 30 minutes a day searching for papers” or that great CEOs work on clear desks, both of which I admit to having anecdotal evidence for (although the 30 minutes a day sounds rather high).

Then there is the Clear Desk brigade who reckons that a messy desk is a security hazard. I guess I would agree with that as in my work I am fastidious about shredding client printouts.

My favourite, and I think the most convincing, is the 5 S’s from The Toyota Way. The principle is to Clean It Up, and Make It Visual. The 5 S’s translate neatly into English:

  1. Sort – Sort through items and keep only what is needed while disposing of what is not.
  2. Straighten (orderliness) – “A place for everything and everything in its place”.
  3. Shine (cleanliness) – the cleaning process acts as a form of inspection that exposes abnormal and pre-failure conditions that affect quality.
  4. Standardize (create rules) – Develop systems and procedures to maintain and monitor the first three S’s.
  5. Sustain (self-discipline) – Maintaining a stabilized workplace is an ongoing process of continuous improvement.

Why am I convinced? Because Toyota came from nowhere to make a global success of their car manufacturing. Just recently they have been knocked off their pedestal by Volkswagen, but these are more than interesting times.

I wonder whether Volkswagen executives have clear desks too – I bet they do …

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